Saturday, November 11, 2006

A Pause for Personal Reflection 11 November

Photo: Remembrance Day

At 11am on 11 November 1918 the guns fell silent, marking the end of the Great or First World War.

At the time of the war (source) Australia's population was 4 million.

416, 809 Australians enlisted for service, representing 38.7% of the total male population aged between 18 to 44. Enlistment was voluntary, with the nation rejecting conscription at two referendums.

At the end of war:
  • 58,961 Australians had been killed
  • 166,811 had been wounded
  • 4,098 were missing or prisoners of war. The bones of some of these have just been found in Belgium
  • 87,865 suffered from sickness

At almost 65 per cent, the Australian casualty rate (proportionate to total embarkations) was the highest of the war.

The total number of casualties has been debated. But as a rough order of magnitude, the number of casualties (military and civilian) was over 37 million - over 15 million deaths and 22 million wounded. This includes almost 9 million military deaths and about 6.6 million civilian deaths. The Allied Powers lost more than 5 million soldiers, the Central Powers more than 3 million.

In the autumn of 1918 as the war was coming to an end, influenza (the Spanish Flu) struck. Exacerbated by war conditions, this killed between 20 and 40 million people over 1918 and 1919. Combined with war deaths, between 35 and 55 million people lost their lives world wide in the period 1914-1919.

Apart from the human destruction, the war destroyed the established European order bringing an end (in Empire and Commonwealth terms) to the promise of the Edwardian age.

I do not approve of the hagiography now being attached in Australia to the country's military record, nor to our habit of re-interpreting history so as to inflate the Australian contribution. I do think that we should remember the past not just because of the people involved but because it sets current problems in context.


Small Business USA said...

Ah Jim, are you suggesting that we (the tecno world) should actually learn from the past instead of prancing around like a boy in puberty trying to have sex with every country we meet?

Jim Belshaw said...

I hadn't thought of it in quite that way, David, but I think that's right.

The sheer scale, the enormity, of Wold War One deserves to be remembered in its own right. But it took another war of similar magnitude before Europe - at least the major countries - finally learned and set the the rivalries amd enmities built up over centuries.

I am always a little cautious in talking about the lessons of the past, but I think that history does set a context that can guide present thinking.